Amy Roberts: Cleaning house
October 25, 2016
Several years ago when my grandfather died, I, along with the rest of the grandkids, was summoned back to his property in Lincoln, Nebraska, to "sort through the Quonsets."
At least, that's what the email from my aunt read. But "sort through" was really code for six days of manual labor, 87 trips to the dump, over 100 "for sale" ads in the newspaper, two tetanus shots, a number of family feuds and an incalculable amount of "WTF is this?" comments.
My grandfather did not throw anything away. Instead, he built more storage containers that were larger and stuffed them full. His children called him a pack rat, he insisted it was because he grew up during the great depression and couldn't bear to toss anything. As for his seven grandkids, we had grand visions of coming across something rare and valuable, or at least sentimental: a piece of art that turned out to be worth millions, a long since forgotten box packed with gold bars, perhaps even love letters to our grandma who had passed a few years earlier.
There was nothing of the sort. Instead, we found things like stuffed cats — not stuffed animals — he'd meant to give to us for birthdays. These were deceased cats that had made a trip to the taxidermist. We found a coffin with a human skull in it (not my grandmother's, we checked), sticks of dynamite, a box of cornstarch that expired in 1954, a collection of over 200 Japanese magazines (he had never been to Japan, nor did he speak the language), a book called "How to Train Your Donkey," and tons of other stuff no one knew what to do with or wanted. We later decided Goodwill must have dumped all the stuff it couldn't sell or salvage in my grandpa's Quonsets.
You never really know what you have until you clean out the garage.
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Though I've never been a hoarder of any sort, this experience scarred me. I regularly donate, throw away or otherwise rid my house of anything I haven't used in the last year. Admittedly, this is an expensive habit as I often find myself needing something I've just tossed and end up buying it again. But for the most part, everything in my house has a purpose and a dedicated spot. I could be packed up and ready to move in two hours.
The exception to this rule is my garage. Which, as I learned this weekend, is apparently a miniature version of my grandpa's Quonsets. In the 15 years I've lived in my house, I have never cleaned or organized this two-car space. I've just added more shelves to store the items I didn't know what else to do with. But then parking became really tight, and I couldn't see the snow blower I know I'll soon need, and I'm pretty sure I've heard a scratching noise in there and figured I should evict any raccoons so they can find new digs before winter. So I cleaned. And four hours into it, I almost bought each of my cousins a plane ticket to come help.
It's true what they say: you never really know what you have until you clean out the garage. And I certainly have no idea why I had most of it. Like a charger for an iPhone 2, over a dozen keys that don't seem to unlock anything, cassette tapes, plates for a set of dinnerware I've never owned, photos of people I don't know, and enough scrap and crap leftover from long since completed construction projects to fill a dump truck. Drywall, bags of cement, plywood, 2 X 4s, tile, insulation, PVC piping, hardwood flooring, plumbing supplies — you name it. "You could build another house with all this," my boyfriend muttered as he hauled it all into his truck to help me dispose of it.
While I may have been able to construct a decent shelter for a seasonal employee, I dropped it all off at the donation center, hoping someone who actually knows which side of a hammer to use can make use of it. And then, in my newly cleaned garage, I hung a photo of my grandpa to serve as a reminder to never let it get so bad again.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident, and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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